This is Ginger, a peppy, lively 1966 Ford Mustang.
Ginger was a present I bought myself in April 1992 for less than $7,000. A corn farmer in Minnesota had bought the car disassembled and completed a loving restoration, using the original color, navy blue metallic. He trailered the car from the Midwest to Weehawken and unloaded it in front of the office one Saturday morning.
She had a grippy 3 speed manual transmission and I drove her up and down Hackensack Plank Road with care. My Dad, who had a particular fondness for old cars himself (in his case, Mercedes Benzes), asked me if he could test drive it. Without hesitation, I jumped out of the car and watched him drive down the hill and back. He stepped out afterwards, and with a minimum of words, gave me his determination that Ginger was a solid car. That was his way of giving me an enthusiastic double thumbs’ up.
I actually used Ginger to drive to work for a week or two. She drew a lot of attention. Dave Murphy, my Dad’s handyman (and a loyal reader of this blog), loved Ginger and his brother ended up doing some work on her later that year. Dan or Yoshi, I forget who, hatched up a “For Sale” sign and placed it on Ginger’s windshield just to razz me. Truly, I worked with a bunch of comedians. Maybe some of my readers do, too.
As it turned out, she was a bit too fragile to use as a daily driver, so Ginger retired to the South Fork of eastern Long Island and became my beach car to sail along country roads.
One day, nine years after the events in my last post, THE FINEST ESCAPE, PART 2, I was washing Ginger in the driveway of our family home in Shinnecock Hills. Dad came ambling out of the house, slowly, using a cane. He was suffering at the time from Lumbar Spinal Stenosis and Hydrocephalus, both age-related maladies causing leg pain while walking.
He sat down on a large boulder facing me. It was unusual for him to come out and watch me wash the Mustang. But my Dad was given to surprising behavior; I was used to it. I greeted him with a good morning as I lathered up Ginger’s grill and headlights.
Dad announced to me in a matter-of-fact voice that he believed he was going to live to 115 years of age, or well past my own retirement age! (He was 87 years old at the time.) And the point of telling me this was that he wanted me to rejoin him at Olcott International.
After fleeing Olcott International for the last time in 1996, I had embarked on my own entrepreneurial path by starting my own business as an IT consultant. In my post THE CALL (AKA FLYING MOUSE STORY), I recounted my first paying assignment of helping a postal worker named Harv in purchasing his first desktop computer and training his mouse to stay on the tabletop.
In the two years that followed, my business experienced a transformation. At first, I migrated to becoming an IT techie for hire to small and medium-sized businesses (with my own office in the Empire State Building looking south towards the World Trade Center and New York harbor). One day, I read in the Wall Street Journal about a new software company that hired thousands of IT consultants into short and long-term projects at Fortune 1000 companies.
The article piqued my interest. I had never heard of the software program – SAP – before. It wasn’t really brand new. Five IBM employees in the Mannheim, Germany office had created the first version of SAP in 1972 featuring the innovation of storing accounting data on electronic media as opposed to computer punch cards (as everyone, including my Dad, had been doing).
This allowed for much faster data retrieval, as opposed to physically loading punch cards into a reader.
Punch card reader courtesy of https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/385761524315880547/
In this way, top management could press a button and get the worldwide Profit and Loss statement at that very moment for worldwide operations! That’s why we have computers, cables, and networks!
According to the article, however, was this warning: “[SAP’s software is] notoriously complex and difficult to install” and required legions of consultants to oversee and configure properly. By 1998, SAP was much more than just an accounting product; it was comprised of over 20 “modules,” each one dedicated to the requirements of every functional division of a multinational operation.
For example, there was one component for sales orders and invoicing the customer. Another for purchasing raw materials and paying vendors. Yet another for Human Resources to keep track of personnel and salaries. Manufacturing had its own application. The backbone was the financial piece inclusive of both Accounts Receivable and Payable, as well as profitability analysis.
The ‘pièce de résistance’ was the fact that all modules were written in the same programming language (called, for the overly curious, “ABAP”). This meant that all components were tightly integrated in real-time and did not require a weekly consolidation report by the IT department to tie it all together, printed in a huge binder on large tractor-fed computer paper.
Typically, those large report binders were best used to hold a hallway door open on hot days to improve ventilation.
This application was, compared to my IT tasks at the time, high end stuff. What I was doing in the computer jungle was akin to manually cutting down trees and carving wheels out of the fallen trunks using craft scissors. Extending the same analogy, SAP project teams were creating sophisticated satellites to plumb the outer solar system.
I liked what I was doing. But the SAP work was certainly more compelling and challenging. It also appealed to my academic background and interests.
You can build interesting things out of homemade wheels.
After I read that article, life continued as usual for a few months until, unexpectedly one day, I received a very topical e-mail. It was an invitation to an event at a German software company in midtown! Come learn about SAP, the invite proclaimed! I was there in a heartbeat.
Turned out to be more of a marketing event – they wanted to sell me a 10-weekend training program from June 1st through August 15th. The firm was a partner of SAP’s and they pledged to place all trainees in projects upon graduation. The course fee was high, but I was sold before I had walked in the door.
There was to be much less driving Ginger the Mustang that summer of 1998.
I found myself with 10 other trainees, all immigrants from Africa and India. Even though some people claim I’m African, I was honestly the odd white guy out (aside from our German instructor). But we all pulled together and drank ginseng supplements to aid our concentration. During the first session alone we spent more than an hour trying to log into the SAP system! Did someone say SAP was complicated?
What I found over the course of the training was that SAP software worked on the basis of business school principles. As an MBA, I found that the extensive tree and branch menus within SAP were organized in an inherently logical fashion. I swam through the application like a fish in water. And, happily enough, I found myself finishing in first place on the final exam.
The krauts held true to their word and placed me at Mitsubishi International Corporation’s SAP project where I remained for 5 years. I was back to driving Ginger the rest of the summer.
But what about my Dad sitting on that rock in 2005 asking me to rejoin Olcott International?
Well, the fact was, that hadn’t been the first time.
Within two years of my leaving the company in 1996, he asked me to come back. I was flattered of course. Naturally, I was interested. I had grown up in the company and the niche industry of patent annuities. But I had suffered too much spiritual (and physical) abuse and valued my own dignity enough to hold my ground. I was adamant – if there were no equity, together with the concomitant authority to set things straight, I would politely decline.
Most of my Dad’s colleagues were very supportive of me. One, however, accused me of being too tough. “James,” he would argue with me from time to time, “he’s your father!” Of course, he was my Father. But I was done with the shoddy treatment and the inability to get things done. And I had created a great career for myself as an SAP consultant.
So, I took my Dad’s requests strictly as compliments. We enjoyed our holidays together without any of the other nonsense. From time to time, he asked me to attend meetings in Weehawken, especially with the largest clients. One of them in particular had started to become concerned with Dad’s advancing age and the lack of a succession plan. They started by making gentle inquiries.
When Dad sat on that rock and watched me foam up Ginger, it was yet another in a series of requests from him to me to come back and work for a fantastic business, except it would be for less income, no equity, more insults, possible physical harm, and an uncertain future in a company that required much needed modernization and clean-up.
He seemed to anticipate my answer (namely, that I welcomed the opportunity to come back but that it had to be on different terms, ones that would benefit the two of us) by not hearing a word of it. He never seemed to comprehend anytime I spoke about “our benefit” or “working together.” After all, he was a control freak.
Dave Murphy wrote to me a week or so ago to tell me that Dad was sane up until the day he died. No doubt Dad could speak with utmost clarity from time to time. But that’s not the nature of the disease called dementia.
About one year after Dad told me he was going to live until 115, he got lost on the drive from his house to his office in Weehawken. It’s a drive of about a mile in length, one that he’d done for almost thirty years. The same traffic lights, identical left and right turns. It was a strange day, I remember it well, Saturday, September 2nd, 2006. Unusual for being very dark and rainy, weird for a late summer’s day. I gave a tour to some tourists around Manhattan that Saturday; we sloshed around Central Park and Wall Street in anoraks and rainproof boots.
Dad, meanwhile, had become disoriented. He stopped at a gas station and started screaming at the attendants. Not knowing what else to do, they summoned the police, and eventually medical personnel. My Dad was restrained and taken to Palisades Hospital for observation.
I was the first one to get the call the next day from the attending physician. The diagnosis of dementia soon followed, and then he was declared a vulnerable adult. Bernard Olcott succumbed to pneumonia in that hospital three months later.
It pains me to know that a towering life could wither away like this. Much less my own Father. I tried to help him by providing my best ideas, soul, initiatives, and defenses to various problems (some of which should have been easy to deal with).
Sadly, if your horse won’t drink the water, you really have no other choice but to find one that will. I know — I tried.
This concludes the Bernard Olcott Story – at least the first phase ends with THE FINEST ESCAPE, PART 2. The last ten years of his life was a story in and of itself: phase two. And you read parts of it just now. Then his estate process was another 12 years: phase three.
Not all times were bad. Neither were all good. Remember that the universe is always trying to kill you. The longer you last gives you ever more chances to draw positive energy from it, for as long as possible. And leave behind a tale or three.
Always give a few rides in your clean Mustang, whatever her model, year, or color.
Thank you for reading this far.
Damn you, James! Your writing has driven me to hackney the word remarkable. What a close! This tune’s for you and Ginger to get you started on fashioning on a memoir of the times…https://youtube.com/watch?v=qaQ8r-SwR2c
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oops: “….fashioning a memoir….”
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Another powerful and insightful post, James. I will remember the “When Dad sat on that rock and watched me foam up Ginger” line for a long time…. 😉 delightful read as always! Thank you.
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Just remember, Ginger was a car.